In D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), Lillian Gish is putting the laundry on the clothes line when she sees a shiny disk that crosses the sky. The disc suddenly wobbles and plummets. Lillian runs to the spot and there she finds a scrap heap from which two tall gray guys emerge. They wear tight garments, some sort of swimsuit and leggings, and have huge eyes totally black as coals. Then a dialogue intertitle appears (it’s a silent movie) where we read: “Calm down! We come in peace.” Lillian figures that these are two Confederate soldiers and hides them in the house. Next, a crowd of men wearing black hoods and robes arrives to the accident area and cordons it off. Fearing that it’s the Ku Klux Klan, which has defected to the side of black people and now harasses whites, Lillian covers herself in tar. Then her beloved comes from the front and is startled to find that Lillian has turned black. While she revives him, the two gray guys appear, followed by an expository intertitle which reads: “The mulattoes”. From here on out the film enters a confused phase and soon after we witness the assassination of President Lincoln.

(If you are a movie buff, you will object that before “A Birth of a Nation,” Georges Méliès had shot “A trip to the Moon.” But Méliès’ aliens were fake while Griffith hired real aliens.)

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